Illinois’ New Police Reform Bills Spark Heated Debates


Photo from Grassroots Leadership Academy

Lauren Packard, Culture Editor

Illinois has recently proposed two new bills that would revolutionize the criminal justice system in the state. The first bill, HB 3653, would change many fundamental aspects of law enforcement. The second, which has now been dropped by its sponsor, is HB 0029. It demanded that all school resource officers be removed from the grounds immediately. Both bills have been subjects of very hot debate since being introduced. People from all over have many varying opinions on the bills, with some being avid supporters and others fearing the harm they could potentially cause. 

The first bill, HB 3653, was recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly, but now must head to Governor Pritzker’s desk for finalization. This bill was drafted by the Illinois Black Caucus after the murder of George Floyd and months of civil unrest that followed. With a 2-year implementation plan, supporters hope that police accountability will be made more of a priority in the near future. By 2025, all law enforcement agencies statewide must use body cams and they must be kept on for any and all incidents. There will also be more protection for whistleblowers who report police misconduct, allowing them to be safe from retaliatory actions. Any incidents including the use of force will be reported to the FBI for statistical purposes which will allow a more transparent record of policing. The use of chokeholds will also be banned. 

However, there are some aspects of the bill that have raised concerns. If approved by Pritzker, it would make Illinois one of the first states to officially end cash bail. The cash bail system has been accused of criminalizing poverty in the past, as anyone who can’t afford the set bail must wait in custody for weeks—or longer—depending on the charges. However, many citizens are worried about how this revolutionary change could affect the public. Criminals in custody could only be detained pretrial if they are deemed a risk to the community. While risk assessment tactics have been somewhat effective, there is no guarantee that they will work for everyone (especially new offenders with no record). This could possibly allow violent criminals to be let back out onto the streets. 

The other proposed bill, HB 0029, demanded that all School Resource Officers be removed from school grounds immediately. Although the bill has been dropped by its writer and will not go through, it caused quite a stir among Illinois residents. The topic of police in schools is incredibly controversial, with activists for change arguing that officers have a tendency to disproportionately arrest students of color. In fact, some have even given the trend a title: the school-to-prison pipeline. 

If SROs were to be removed, many people feel that it could cause safety issues at schools. If there were to be any kind of crisis or active shooter situation, the response time from local police could put lives at risk. Hinsdale South has its own resource officer, Detective Rundell. In his years working as a school officer, he’s found that his job often allows for positive interactions with students while also keeping safety a priority. “Working with the kids here can really help build positive relationships between the police and students” he says, “safety comes first, and discipline is always second.”

Regardless of what side you may be on, both bills are a great example of the time we are currently living in. The debate they have sparked in the state seem to really parallel the tensions that we have felt in our nation throughout this past year. There have been many demands for changes in the way the criminal justice system works, and many citizens are hopeful that the bill could be a good start. If Governor Pritzker passes the bill, it would certainly be revolutionary for the state. Only time will tell if the legislation will be helpful, or if the concerns of some people are justified.